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Madrid History

Archeological investigations show that humans have lived in or around what is now Madrid for more than 100,000 years.

Madrid´s appearance in the history books begins, however, in the ninth century, when Cordoban emir Abderraman II built a fortress here to defend the local population against attacks from Castile and Leon.

Conquered by Alfonso VI in 1085, Madrid continued to be an obscure village very much overshadowed by the grandeur of nearby Toledo until the 1500s.

It was in that era when Charles V took favor on the city, granting Madrid the right to use the royal crown in the city seal.

But Madrid really started on the road to the city we know today when Charles´son, Phillip II, made it the capital of Spain in 1561.

Madrid´s location smack in the middle of the Iberian peninsula certainly played a part in that decision. Perhaps equally important was the lack of non-royal power centers in Madrid -- the Spanish church was headquartered safely down the road in the former capital Toledo, and the city had not built up a class of important local merchants or nobles the way more established cities such as Valladolid or Burgos had.

The city grew rapidly as the seat of government. With no navigable rivers leading to it, and with long and dusty roads between it and other population centers in Spain, the city focused very much on the crown and the court. Not only Spain, but a world empire covering most of the Americans and stretching across broad swaths of the Pacific was administered from this dusty town high on the Castilian plain.

The Hapsburg rulers oversaw the building of much of historical Madrid. The Plaza Mayor dates from this era, as do many notable churches as well as private homes.

In the early 1700´s, after the last Hapsburg king died without heir, a branch of the French royal Bourbon family took the thrown in Madrid. Bourbon Madrid includes the Palacio Real, the royal palace,l as well as the building that now houses the Prado museum.

Early in the 1800s, Napoleon placed his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne. Although in many ways a progressive and enlightened ruler, he was wildly unpopular, and in 1808 the city rose up against him. Following the Peninsular Wars, the Bourbons resumed the Spanish throne, although with a growing parliamentary influence.

In this era, Madrid´s geographical isolation began to ease, as railroads connected the city to other parts of Spain. Modern urban design also began to clear out portions of the old city´s warren of small streets, whether with the creation of the Plaza de Oriente by Bonaparte or the creation of the Gran Via in the later year of the century.

The twentieth century brought continued growth and modernization, until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Battles raged just a few dozen blocks from downtown Madrid throughout the war. The city was held by the Republicans, and was attacked by the Nationalist forces under General Franco. Franco´s troops fired artillery shells into the city so regularly that the Gran Via became known as ¨Howitzer Alley.¨

After the Civil War, a new wave of building came to Madrid as the city expanded far beyond its pre-war borders. The 19th century urban model was largely repeated in the growth, with relatively low rise six or seven story apartment buildings mixing medium population density with stores and offices on the lower floors.

Following the end of Franco´s dictatorship, Madrid served as the focus of the ¨movida,¨ a wild period of new-experienced freedoms and vibrant nightlife in the late seventies and early eighties, analogous in some ways to the social movements of the 60s in other Western countries. On the political front, Madrid saw the emergence of strong constitutional democracy.

No longer the home of an empire, Madrid continues to be one of Europe´s most dynamic international capitals.



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